Canada’s new health minister has said the Liberal government has no immediate plans to ease arduous requirements that the former Conservative administration placed on supervised-injection sites for drug users.
That’s despite several cities across Canada signalling they want similar facilities of their own and having complained that the application process designed by the Conservatives is unjustifiably onerous.
Speaking in Vancouver, Minister Jane Philpott answered a question about revisiting legislation somewhat clumsily, but ruled out taking action in the near future.
“There are other communities that are using the mechanisms in place to be able to apply to open similar sites,” Philpott said.
“We have made statements in the past to say that we are continuing to follow how that is evolving under the current legislation, and if there is a requirement for changing the legislation, we’ll certainly be looking at that possibility.”
Philpott emphasized that the federal government does support supervised-consumption services. But rather than explain the Liberal government's position on the change in rules enacted by the Conservatives, she called attention to a five-point plan in response to rising number of drug-overdose deaths. It focuses on education, treatment, and support for existing programs.
Since the former Conservative government’s Respect for Communities Act took effect in June 2015, it has been nearly impossible for a Canadian city to open a supervised-injection site for intravenous drug users like the one that operates in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Several cities across Canada want one. Toronto city council has passed a motion in support of three sites, Victoria’s mayor has repeatedly spoken in favour of the idea, and Montreal has begun preparing an application for a federal exemption that supervised-injection sites require to operate legally in Canada.
And yet Vancouver’s Insite remains the only low-barrier supervised-injection site in Canada. (The West End’s Dr. Peter Centre operates a similar site, but its services are reserved for members who are HIV positive.)
That’s because the Respect for Communities Act requires any local health authority that wants to open such a site to complete a lengthy consultation process and assemble an extremely arduous application package. Advocates for harm reduction argue that the requirements were designed by Stephen Harper’s administration specifically to ensure that no facility like Insite opens anywhere else in Canada.
The Liberal government’s reluctance to revisit that legislation has faced mounting criticism in the context of an overdose epidemic that is killing hundreds of people across Canada.
During the first six months of 2016, 371 people died of drug-overdose deaths in B.C.
That compares to 494 during the whole of 2015, up from 367 in 2014 and 331 in 2013.
With the exception of 2012, fatal overdoses in B.C. have increased every year since 2008.